Previous Section Home Page

Mr. Walker : Any director of a company who accepts an appointment to a quango must understand that there is a real possibility that he will face a conflict of interests. I accept that, and I equally accept that a trade unionist would be put in the same position. That is not a reason for condemning such individuals and it is not a reason for excluding them.

Like the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross), I was bitterly disappointed by the resignation of the chairman-designate because I thought that he was eminently suited to the position. He was the ideal chap to follow Bill Low, a constituent of mine who did a good job.

That shows that those of us who are involved in political life should be careful when we comment on who should be a member of a quango. Quangos should be open to the best people, whoever they are and wherever they come from. The system for appointments must ensure that interests are declared. We have largely achieved that--we have certainly done so in the House, where the Register of Members' Interests is available for public inspection.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Dundee, East raised that subject in the debate. Although it is an important subject, this is neither the right context nor the right debate in which to raise such a matter.

Mr. Ernie Ross : The other resignation has more alarming consequences for democracy in Scotland and needs to be dealt with by the Secretary of State for Scotland. The person who resigned was, in effect, a civil servant with business interests. That conflict led to his resignation. The Secretary of State needs to take account of that. Could hon. Members imagine the chief executive of Tayside region or of Dundee district council being allowed to be a business person? A conflict of interest would arise immediately. That needs to be dealt with. Will the hon. Member comment on that?

Mr. Walker : I have already publicly commented on the matter and I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is not aware of that.

Column 45

People who are paid substantial salaries to be involved in the distribution of public assets should not allow themselves to get into a position where a conflict of interest could arise and affect their judgment. Hon. Members, councillors or anyone else in public office face such a problem in their public lives. Chief executives of regions, district councils or enterprise companies should not allow themselves to be put into a position where they could be considered to have a conflict of interest, which would raise doubts about their integrity. The integrity of those in charge of such organisations should never be in doubt.

The hon. Member for Dundee, East spoke of people being appointed to quangos. A quango will operate effectively only if it has the right mix of talents, which, I have always believed, requires trade union input. Under our democratic process, one must be prepared to accept that there should always be an avenue of expression for another view, even if one does not agree with it.

That is why I believe that it is good that the hon. Member for Dundee, East speaks on such matters in the House ; it gives him the opportunity to express his concerns and doubts. If nothing else, he will persuade the Unionists sitting behind and in front of him that he is wrong and that people such as myself are perhaps more right than he is.

Several hon. Members rose --

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse) : Order. One hour and 48 minutes are available for debate and no fewer than 10 hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. I hope that hon. Members will bear that in mind.

5.13 pm

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow) : I shall be brief.

May I join those who, earlier in the debate, sought to establish their credentials? I seem to be the first Member to speak tonight who is married to a Scot. It will interest you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to learn that I am the only Yorkshire-born Scots Member in the House, and I hope to be here for a long time. My wife could regard me as a foreigner, of course, but she also sees me as a fellow Scot. I am grateful for, and readily acknowledge, the honest statements of the hon. Members for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) and for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson) that the Union is subject to change. They would not deny that it is legitimate to examine and criticise the governance of a country and to suggest, by way of prescriptions, a better way of governing it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) made an excellent speech, although I have one or two reservations about it. I understand why he is critical of multinational companies and of their role in the Scottish economy, but I am sure that he will agree that some of them are a damn sight better than indigenous employers. A local employer in my constituency is to become chairman of the Inverclyde Royal hospital trust, but the wages he pays his employees are among the lowest in the region.

I am pleased to say that IBM is in my constituency--my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham) sometimes thinks that it is in his constituency. It is the biggest private employer, and gives good terms and conditions of employment. BMW's takeover of Rover was announced last week. I wish that BMW were locating in my constituency, because I know from my knowledge of German industrial relations

Column 46

that it would have to introduce a Scottish mitbestimmung. Workers at BMW plants in Scotland would be given formal, effective trade union representation. Moreover, employment directives passed in Brussels would be implemented in Greenock or wherever a company such as BMW decided to locate. There are advantages to multinationals, and I should love more to locate in my constituency.

It is right to question the way in which Scotland is governed. I am a federalist, and I want to see a federalist European Union with its foreign and security policies. I want Scotland to be a federal nation in a federal system. It is wrong that Scotland is part of a multinational state that is overwhelmingly determined and shaped by London--by metropolitan thinking and decision-making.

Soon, members of the Scottish Prison Officers Association, who do a first- class job, often in difficult circumstances, will have their right to industrial action removed. Prisons will be privatised under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, which is now in Committee. There are only two Scottish Members on that Committee, despite the fact that 40 per cent. of its content relates partially or exclusively to Scotland.

Tomorrow morning, the Committee will debate a legal concept that is new to Scotland--trespassory assembly. With his legal training, the Under- Secretary of State for Scotland will know more about it than me. He may smile, but I have already received representations from anglers, hill walkers and even Monro baggers, not that I am one myself, about clauses 44 to 55 of that largely English Bill. They have made those representations because the clauses are aimed at sorting out hunt saboteurs, new age travellers and those who organise raves. I have already asked the Minister at what point a rave becomes a ceilidh.

By and large, we do not face such problems in Scotland. I was talking to an old friend of mine, Jimmy Harvie, an 84-year-old ex-Glasgow bricklayer. He and his late lovely wife, Pearl, walked Scotland's hills for more than 60 years. People like Jimmy Harvie and other walkers, ramblers and fishermen are to be excluded from their favourite haunts. That is utterly scandalous, and those clauses should not refer to Scottish pastimes at all. The average hill walker in Scotland is extremely fastidious--one does not find much litter on Schiehallion, Lochnagar, Ben Ledi or Ben Vorlich. People are careful on the hills in terms of protecting the environment.

As for fishermen, there should be public access to all our rivers. The rich perhaps should be dumped in the rivers--where the rivers are shallow, of course. There should not be the shackling by the new lairds who come in and buy up estates. Those people seem to have a curious idea of the existing law of trespass.

Mr. Gallie : Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there are many small fishing clubs in Scotland with a membership who certainly are not rich? The members of those clubs stock the rivers and ensure that people can enjoy fishing. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that their rights on the river should not be acknowledged?

Dr. Godman : That is an important point. I am a member of two such clubs--the Port Glasgow club and the Newark angling club. Both clubs have many unemployed and retired members, and they are deeply concerned about the Government's plans for the management of Scotland's waterways. It is a complicated problem.

Column 47

The Scottish element of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill should have formed an exclusive Scottish Bill, so that we could scrutinise and seek to amend it. It should not have been lumped in with an English Bill which is aimed at problems south of the border. That is an absurdity.

We have spent hours and hours talking about the abolition of the right to silence, but the right to silence is not affected in Scotland. That is an English matter. The right to silence remains in the police stations and the courts in Scotland, and that is how it should be. Scottish issues should not be lumped in with English issues on Standing Committees. It is disgraceful.

That is one reason why I will always argue for a Scottish Parliament. Those matters could be argued among Members who would be elected by a different electoral system. The one we have is a "rotten borough" kind of system.

Does the Minister agree that one element of a parliamentary democracy is the ease of access given to representatives of local communities for meetings with Ministers? If he does, when will he respond to invitations given to him by way of the editor of the Greenock Telegraph and representatives from the east end of Greenock to visit that area? Despite the valiant efforts of Inverclyde district council, the east end still suffers severe blight in terms of rotten, lousy, damp and cold houses which are lived in by people who simply do not have the financial means to escape that kind of housing imprisonment. Will the Minister come to the east end of Greenock to see that for himself?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I will accept the hon. Gentleman's invitation to visit Greenock, as I have done with all invitations from Opposition Members.

Dr. Godman : I am extremely grateful to the Minister. I was too modest to mention it, but I sent my own invitation a couple of weeks ago. I am delighted that the Minister has accepted with his characteristic generosity.

The critics of radical change on the Government Benches seem to accept some form of stilted evolutionary change to the Union. Judging by what constituents of all ages say to me when I do my walkabouts--that is a horrible word--they are deeply disenchanted and discontented with the present system for the governance of Scotland. The overwhelming majority of people in Scotland would welcome the setting up of a multi-option referendum. We could then determine whether it is those who share my view who are closer to the hearts and minds of the people in Scotland, or the honest apologists for the Union on the Government Benches.

I have mentioned Defoe, that English secret agent from all those years ago. He talked about the Union as a marriage of convenience which would best suit English interests and, by and large, that still holds today. However, it will change. We are extremely fortunate that the secessionist movement in Scotland is so honourably peaceable. The change will come, and the best way to help bring it about is to set up a multi-option referendum.

5.25 pm

Mr. George Kynoch (Kincardine and Deeside) : The motion before the House is wide, and I found it difficult to decide what aspect to address.

Column 48

We have heard the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) talking about a multinational company within his constituency and the amount it contributes, presumably to the economy of his constituency. Yet the motion talks about

"the undemocratic influence and power of transnational and multinational companies in the economic life of Scotland". I have to tell the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) that I am happy that a significant amount is given by multinational and transnational oil companies to my area and to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson). Without them, the economy of our area would be that much poorer. I find it strange that the hon. Member for Dundee, East uses those terms, as I know that his area also contains a significant number of multinational companies.

Mr. McAllion : The hon. Gentleman may recall that the Timex multinational company had a long association with Dundee. However, it ripped off its Dundee workers and walked away to make its profits elsewhere in the world. I warn the hon. Gentleman that multinational companies could do that in his constituency.

Mr. Kynoch : I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman introduced Timex into the debate, as I was just about to refer to that company. I had hoped that the kind of industrial relations which were prevalent at Timex were behind us. I am not saying that it was the fault of one side or the other, because the faults clearly lay with employers and employees.

I can remember what industrial relations were like before the Government came to power in 1979, and I clearly remember the coal strike of the late 1970s. Pickets were standing at our factory gates when we had no grievance with any of our suppliers, but they prevented coal from being delivered to our company, and therefore affected the output and the economy of the area.

Thankfully, the Conservative Government came to power with a clear remit to reform union relations and to ensure that greater flexibility and accountability were given to employees, so that they could work in peace and harmony with their employers.

I am sorry to say that that did not work at Timex. The so-called picket line, which I understood was legally meant to consist of no more than five or six people, was supplemented by a demonstration of several hundred people. That was taking full advantage of the law, and it made a mockery of the law. I hope that, as time goes on, that can be clarified and tightened. Multinational and transnational companies can contribute a significant amount to the economy of Scotland, and I will return to that subject.

I would like to talk about some of the quangos which have been referred to in the motion. There is a direct reference to NHS trusts, and to

"the Scottish Enterprise network of companies".

I worked closely with the Scottish Development Agency when I was in the textile trade, and I continued to do so when it became Scottish Enterprise and set up local enterprise companies. I subsequently became one of the founder directors of Moray, Badennoch and Strathspey local enterprise company. We welcomed a trade union representative on the board of that company, as well as representatives from local government and businesses throughout the area.

Column 49

That board reflected the geographical spread of local companies. That great strength had been lacking under the previous SDA set-up, because, in the north-east corner of Scotland, it was felt that the SDA was a Glasgow-based organisation. Although it had a regional office in Aberdeen, it was geared towards oil, and it was felt that the indigenous industries were a second thought to the SDA. By devolving the functions of the SDA and incorporating the training agency, the local enterprise companies democratised a system that did a lot of good for Scotland at the time.

I pay tribute to the significant benefits given to local people by Grampian Enterprise and the subcontractor in my area, the Kincardine and Deeside enterprise trust. The people who sit on the board of Grampian Enterprise give of their best and of their experience to ensure the balanced delivery of services in Grampian. It is insulting for those people that they are dismissed as Government placemen by the hon. Member for Dundee, East, because I know that they give of their time willingly, and without any recompense, to the benefit of the region.

I sat on the board of a local enterprise company, and I know what happened when a conflict of interest arose. The directors simply declared their interest, and either left the room or stayed to answer the relevant questions of other board members, without participating in the debate. That is the normal practice when any conflict of interest arises.

The hon. Member for Dundee, East has also described national health trusts as another Government quango. In the run-up to the award of trust status to the Aberdeen Royal hospitals NHS trust, I was politically unique in the north-east, because I supported the bid. I know that Opposition Members, of whichever party, were against it, and I suspect that certain of my colleagues had great reservations. That trust, however, has provided greater flexibility and greater accountability in the delivery of health care in the area. It has meant that the delivery of health care has been brought closer and is more appropriate to the people. It offers more flexibility than was available in directly managed units.

According to the hon. Member for Dundee, East, that so-called quango is destroying democracy in Scotland, but it is worth considering what it has achieved in its first year of operation, 1992-93. According to the trust's annual report :

"A record number of patients were treated in 1992-93

over 2,500 more in-patients were treated

over 8,900 more out-patients attendances

over 1,900 more day cases

over 800 more operations.

The Trust has waiting time guarantees for in-patients of 12 months, and less for specific procedures."

Those figures prove that trust status has been successful. It has been welcomed by local people.

Mr. Gallie : My hon. Friend will be interested to know that South Ayrshire Trust, which is adjacent to my constituency, can boast of similar rates of success. The chairman of that trust, who has done a remarkable job, was certainly not seen as a friend of the Conservative party in the past. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is a perfect response to the challenge from Opposition Members who constantly carp about Conservative appointees?

Mr. Kynoch : I welcome that intervention from my hon. Friend. I am well aware that trust members are appointed because of the experience that they bring to their local

Column 50

areas. Those representatives may be trade unionists, employers, employees, male, female and members of whatever political party, as long as they can contribute to the well-being of the trust. I believe that is absolutely right.

It is important to remember that half of any NHS trust board is made up of medically qualified people. Non-executive members from outside the medical profession do not make up the majority on any trust board.

When the Aberdeen Royal Hospitals NHS Trust was established, it was argued that it would be opposed from within and that there would be appalling employee-employer relations. It was argued that it would lead to the downfall of the NHS in the north-east, but the exact opposite has occurred. In the first year of its operation, the trust has improved employee- employer relations through an effective staff board, which discusses staffing issues. I can quote a specific example of such an improvement from the trust's annual report, which says of junior doctors' hours of work :

"Staff at all levels--medical, nursing and para-medical--have helped in the substantial efforts made to reduce Junior Doctors' hours." That objective of the Conservative party has been brought about by the trust through partnership rather than conflict.

The trust should not be knocked by the Opposition as a quango, because it has already made significant developments in the delivery of clinical care. Bone marrow transplantations are now available in Aberdeen and that specialist form of medicine has been greatly welcomed. The trust has also taken delivery of a new magnetic resonance imaging scanner, which is better known as an MRI scanner. The trust also offers a local lithotripsy service, provided by a mobile unit, to get rid of kidney stones.

All those benefits have been brought about by a so-called quango, which has also increased the number of cardiac operations, which is pertinent to the Scottish population because of the incidence of heart disease. I do not believe that we should knock trust status ; we should welcome it because of the benefits that it has brought to the health service.

I suspect that the hon. Member for Dundee, East also believes that that quango is more remote from the people than the old system of health care, but he should take note of what the trust's annual report has said about bringing health services closer to patients. It stated :

"Over the year we cared for 82,245 in-patients and 388,001 out-patients. All users of our services are encouraged to tell us what they think of our services--whether good or bad"

Those people were encouraged to comment on the delivery of services and the trust received just 440 formal complaints. That means that fewer than one in 1,000 patients made a complaint. Something must be going right with that quango. I believe that those benefits demonstrate the advantages of flexibility within the NHS and of involving local people in the running of the health service. The motion tabled by the hon. Member for Dundee, East also refers to local government reform. We are currently considering the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill in Committee. I am amused when I hear Opposition Members claim that that reform will diminish the power of local democracy in Scotland. In recent weeks I have read a number of newspaper articles about the Labour-controlled council of Monklands. It is alleged that the council operates in a fashion that is far from democratic. Apparently, at the end of last week, the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith)

Column 51

at long last entered the debate and is now asking my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland to investigate some of the allegations. I think that that is right and that we should try to achieve the democratic delivery of local services.

Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart) : Is the hon. Gentleman also asking the Secretary of State to institute an inquiry, or is he simply leaving it to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith)? Does he associate the name of the Secretary of State for National Heritage, the right hon. Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler), with Westminster council in the same way as he so glibly associates my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East with Monklands council?

Mr. Kynoch : I shall not be drawn down that path because we are discussing the future of democracy in Scotland. Unless we intend to take over the future of Westminster, we must contain our comments to Scotland. The hon. Gentleman's intervention, however, makes my point clear.

In my part of Scotland, the population desperately wants single-tier authorities as soon as possible. Although there are queries about some of the proposed boundaries, such fine detail will soon be debated fully in Committee. People want to rationalise and reduce the overheads of local government and bring local democracy closer to the people.

As I said on Second Reading of the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill, it is interesting to note that all the Opposition parties advocate single- tier authorities. But the big difference is that they also want a Scottish parliament, which would be an extra and more costly tier. According to 1994 -95 figures, Government-supported spending per capita in Scotland is some 34 per cent. higher than in England. Perhaps I should say that quietly as the Secretary of State's Parliamentary Private Secretary has an English constituency and might be upset to learn that. Scotland gets 26 per cent. more than Wales. I must therefore assume that, if we had a Scottish parliament as the Opposition advocate, such spending would not be allowed to continue and Scotland would have to make up the shortfall.

I hope that the Scottish electorate is aware of the Opposition parties' proposals on local government reform and a Scottish parliament. My hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) referred to the number of Opposition Members with aspirations for a Cabinet position, who would then have to decide whether to sit in a Scottish Cabinet or a Cabinet in London. That might cause some interesting problems for the Opposition.

The motion does not make its point. I feel proud and positive about many aspects of government, trusts, Scottish Enterprise and LECs, which have made a positive contribution towards Scotland's economy. 5.43 pm

Sir Russell Johnston (Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber) : I congratulate the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) on initiating the debate. Unfortunately, it is difficult to have a balanced debate if the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) takes advantage of the limited

Column 52

time available to us. He spoke for 34 minutes and then disappeared. That is unreasonable behaviour. I hope to speak for less than 10 minutes.

The hon. Member for Dundee, East began by saying that people "must have their say and their way". He pointed out that the Scottish people had voted three to one in favour of some form of Scottish self-government. He did not, however, feel it necessary to mention that it was wrong for Labour to have 68 per cent. of Scottish seats in exchange for 39 per cent. of the vote. We do not have a fair voting system so that people can have their say and their way.

Mr. McAllion : I am happy to associate myself with the hon. Gentleman's remarks. As vice-chairman of the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform, I am a long-term supporter of proportional representation both for a Scottish parliament and at the level of the United Kingdom.

Sir Russell Johnston : I welcome what the hon. Gentleman said, which has the added bonus of shortening my speech. I no longer need to make a long statement about the value of proportional representation, as he accepts it. That also affects patronage and other matters, which I need not go through.

Without federalism within the United Kingdom, subsidiarity in the European Community is a sham. The Government see it not as decentralisation or enabling more citizens directly to influence decisions that affect them, but as a way of defending Whitehall. The Government will oppose progressive social and environmental change agreed consensually in Brussels and Strasbourg, such as is contained in the motion that will be debated later today. But, on the basis of a quarter of the vote, they will impose on Scotland educational change, changes in the health service, changes in the ownership of public utilities, and changes in local government which the majority do not want. That makes no sense whatever.

I was astonished that the hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Kynoch) leapt to the defence of quangos, saying that they were marvellous, closer in touch with the people, enormously politically balanced, fair and great. He justified that by saying that the Aberdeen Royal hospital's NHS trust had done more cardiac operations. I have no doubt that people under communist regimes said that, and that Franco built a lot of hospitals. If that is the hon. Gentleman's criterion of whether democracy is desirable, he does not understand the issue.

Mr. Kynoch : Does the hon. Gentleman recall that I said that half the members of the trust board were medical staff? Under the previous system of directly managed units, the medical staff had no say in the running of their hospital. They can now have an input and allow local flexibility in the delivery of services to achieve the positive results to which I referred.

Sir Russell Johnston : If the hon. Gentleman is saying that the new quangos are better than the old quangos, that is one argument. I simply do not like quangos, so my argument is different.

On local government reform, older Members may remember that, from 1966-69, I served on the Wheatley commission, appointed by the late--it would be fair to say great--Willie Ross, later Lord Ross of Marnock. It was a balanced commission, on which the late Betty Harvie Anderson, who was certainly no socialist, also sat.

Column 53

Ultimately, it produced a consensual agreement on the way forward. The essense of what was said then was that we wanted stronger, more effective local government, which was less in thrall to central Government. If it could not stand up to central Government, it was no longer local. There is no justification for changes which no one has sought. They have been determined within a party which represents only a quarter of the Scottish electorate, and are clearly designed to strengthen central Government and weaken local government. That is the result of more authorities, in my view. My view is not entirely in line with my party's view, but as one gets older one is allowed more freedom in these matters.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West) : Hear, hear.

Sir Russell Johnston : I never used to get cheers from the hon. Gentleman--it is very encouraging.

I must tell the hon. Member for Dundee, East, much of whose speech I agreed with, that the hope of achieving Scottish home rule has persisted for a long time. It goes back to Gladstone and to the Bill that Asquith brought as far as Second Reading in 1914. The Bill fell. After the second world war, the idea was partly responsible for the growth of the Liberal party and of the Scottish National party in Scotland.

The Labour party was converted--or rather, reconverted, since Keir Hardie believed in it--to home rule in time. We can therefore assert in all fairness that there is an established and stable demand for self-government in Scotland. That more than justifies the call for a multi-option referendum to establish openly and officially the attitudes of the Scottish people. I hope that the Scottish political parties will then be able to base an agreed solution on the result. 5.50 pm

Mr. Henry McLeish (Fife, Central) : This has been an important debate, and it is a debate which will continue. It is also a timely debate. I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) not only on winning the debate but on advancing, with his characteristic passion, the need for a Scottish parliament. He will have only a few years to wait until we have a Labour Government setting up a Scottish parliament in Edinburgh to tackle some of the real problems that the present Government have ignored because of their obsession with centralisation, contracting out and a market philosophy.

Quangos are at the top of the Scottish political agenda nowadays, and they clearly embarrass the Government. The issue disconcerts the business community because the public interest is now playing second fiddle to private and vested interests. Over the past few weeks and months, fraud, corruption and the woeful misuse of public funds seem to have been high on the agenda of a certain minority.

The Secretary of State for Scotland seems unconcerned, sitting idly by while these activities unfold. He seems either unwilling or unable to intervene. A new era is unfolding in Scotland in which the promotion of the culture of closet croneyism is well to the fore. Nearly 5,000 people behind closed doors spend almost £7 billion of public money, with only tenuous lines of accountability to the Scottish Office, Parliament, the press or the public.

It is important to use this opportunity to offer our response to a speech that the Secretary of State made in

Column 54

Scotland today, ostensibly to set the record straight on quangos. The speech offered him a chance to come clean and to accept the widespread criticism of quangos. Tragically, that did not happen. The Secretary of State deliberately attempted to distort the debate on quangos by asserting that the number of executive public bodies had declined from 84 in 1980 to less than half that number now. The real issue, of course, is why there are 167 quangos in Scotland. Was the right hon. Gentleman being disingenuous? Was he trying to distort the debate? Those 167 organisations operate outwith the usual realms of public scrutiny. It is not only their numbers that cause concern, but the fact that their powers have been rapidly extended. They spend an extraordinary amount of the Scottish public expenditure budget. We should also remember that in 1992 the Scottish Office had more executive bodies than did any other Department in the United Kingdom.

As quoted in the Evening Times, the Secretary of State attacked his critics as follows :

"What nonsense! The number of public bodies has actually fallen over the past decade, as the Government made services work better and with more thought for the taxpayer's wallet."

That clearly shows that the right hon. Gentleman does not understand what a quango is. Either that, or he has attempted to mislead the Scots in a major speech today. Meanwhile, I challenge the Minister to explain whether the Secretary of State is right and I am wrong about the increasing number of quangos.

In the same article the Secretary of State is quoted as saying : "Many Health Boards and hospital trusts have meetings open to the public and I would like to see the rest follow their lead." What an extraordinary statement. We argue for open government, while the Secretary of State says that he would like more public meetings held by these bodies. Why does the Secretary of State not open up all these quangos to scrutiny by press and public? It is clear that the Secretary of State is complacent about quangos. He has whitewashed the deplorable record of some of them in the past few months, and he is trying to shift the blame away from his appointments and to lay it on the Opposition parties in Scotland, which are demanding firm action to clean up the quangos before we hear more stories of sleaze and corruption in Scottish public life. The Secretary of State has also been back-pedalling on reforms that he promised in this House-- minimal reforms to improve the handling of Scottish business. If we can believe the article in The Scotsman of 5 February, that much becomes apparent. We agreed that the reforms should come before the House, so what is the right hon. Gentleman doing about that? It appears that he is running scared. After the fiasco of the Peterken affair in Glasgow, surely he does not want Lord Fraser to come and answer questions in the Committee. Why are the Government back-pedalling on such an important issue? Last week, the right hon. Gentleman withdrew from the Scottish local government Committee. Is his commitment to this form of democracy in Scotland waning? Has he no stomach for a fight?

Mr. Gallie : The hon. Gentleman has been unfair, suggesting that the Secretary of State is backing away from a fight and is not meeting his obligations. My right hon. Friend promised Scotland single-tier local government and

Column 55

he is going to give it that. His absence from the Committee has to do with parliamentary procedures and a lack of co- operation on the part of Opposition Members.

Next Section

  Home Page